Some moments are so vividly etched into your memory that you never forget them. For Manny Rodriguez it was the moment he realized he wanted to be a photographer. Born in Havana Cuba, and raised in Miami, he didn't pick up the camera until the age of 18 when he bought a Canon for no other reason other than boredom. a Canon FTB-n, which he purchased mail-order for 359.00, and that included a 50mm 1.4 lens, leather case, lens cleaning supplies, and three rolls of Kodachrome film with processing included!
He became absolutely fascinated with the ability to capture a moment in time, or capture a subject, and keep it, take it with him. Then, the pivotal moment arrived; “I remember right around my 19th birthday, on a Sunday morning at exactly 9:05, standing on the south east side of the Miami River Bridge, me pointing the camera at the buildings downtown, saying to myself out loud, I have to make this a career.’ It was that simple,” he says. He was hired by a studio several months later and worked his way up to Junior photographer over the next couple of years before going full-time freelance. In 1994, Manny relocated to Dallas, where he began specializing in shooting still life, food, and interiors.
Oh sure, he’s affable and easy to work with. Never met a stranger. Keeps up the spirit of “mi casa, tu casa” with massive studio mojito parties and home holiday gatherings. He seems so, well, open. But make no mistake, my friend — Manny Rodriguez is a man of many secrets.
The je ne sais quoi he brings to every shot? The tasty little something extra you feel with his food images? You can stand there all day watching him work and still not know exactly how he does it. Nor (and this may be even more tormenting to the studio regulars)— nor will Manny reveal the secret of his famous Cuban coffee (“the black nectar of the Cuban gods,” as his father called it). It’s something people stay up nights wondering about. Especially if they drank the coffee anytime after noon.
Manny came by his secretive streak the honest way: He inherited it. His mom, Amelia, whose cooking was legendary in Miami’s Cuban community, would gladly tell you what was in her recipes; she would just leave out the one tiny detail that seemed to make all the difference. But that was okay. It kept friends and family coming back to her table, much like Manny’s little secrets keep clients (American Airlines, American Express, American Way Magazine, Martha Stewart, Neiman Marcus, Pizza Hut, RBMM, SubZero/Wolf, The Richards Group, Target, Tracy Locke, Williams-Sonoma, YUM! Brands, Zoe's Kitchen, and many others) coming back to his studio.
Come by anytime. Manny will welcome you with open arms and toast you with a nice cup of Cuban rocket fuel. But he won’t spill any secrets. Sorry.